BBC defends use of N-word on-air in news report after outcry

The BBC has refused to apologise after a journalist used the N-word uncensored during a report last week, but accepted it caused offence.

BBC social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin used the word during a report on a racially-motivated hit-and-run for BBC Points West, which later ran on the BBC News Channel.

Lamdin told viewers: “Just to warn you, you are about to hear highly offensive language. Because as the men ran away they hurled racial abuse, calling him a n*****.”

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The clip was widely shared on Twitter, with Huffpost journalist Nadine White among those asking: “Who at the BBC decided it was okay to use the N word in this segment and why?”

Capital Xtra radio presenter Yinka Bokinni shared the link to the BBC’s complaints form in a tweet shared almost 3,000 times.

Some 18,656 were subsequently sent in to the BBC.

The BBC has now responded to the complaints, saying it listened to “what people have had to say about the use of the word” in an “important piece of journalism about a shocking incident”.

It said it accepted it had caused offence but that it wanted people to understand why the decision was made to air the word, adding that it “would never want our reporting to become the focus of such an important story”.

It said the victim’s family were “anxious” the incident was seen and understood by the wider public, meaning they wanted viewers to see the extent of the man’s injuries and to hear the racist language alleged to have been heard by the occupants of the car.

A team of people “including a number of senior editorial figures” separately considered whether it was editorially justified to use the word in this context.

The BBC went on: “You are, of course, right that the word is highly offensive and we completely accept and understand why people have been upset by its use.

“The decision to use the word was not taken lightly and without considerable detailed thought: we were aware that it would cause offence.

“But, in this specific context we felt the need to explain, and report, not just the injuries but, given their alleged extreme nature, the words alleged to have been used – a position which, as we have said, was supported by the family and the victim.

“These are difficult judgements but the context is very important in this particular case.

“We believe we gave adequate warnings that upsetting images and language would be used and we will continue to pursue this story.”

The BBC has not revealed how many complaints it received about the report.

Ofcom research on offensive language from 2016 found that racist language, including the N-word, are “among the most unacceptable words overall” and were seen as “derogatory, discriminatory and insulting” to participants in its survey.

“Many participants were concerned about these words being used at any time, with their use requiring significant contextual justification,” Ofcom said.

The N-word was used uncensored for a second time within a week on Saturday night, this time by presenter Lucy Worsley as she quoted John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, in a documentary about the US civil war.

She told viewers “his words carry a health warning” before saying the word, prompting 417 complaints to the BBC.

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall 

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